Work Plan Florida
Upon the conclusion of the 2013 Legislative Session, Senate President Don Gaetz (R-Niceville) and House Speaker Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel) celebrated the completion of their joint legislative agenda, "Work Plan Florida." The joint agenda, announced in January, includes bold steps to tackle ethics and campaign finance reform, fiscally responsible changes to Florida's local public sector pension plans, innovations in Florida's higher education system and a review of Florida election laws. To date, each of the five Work Plan Florida agenda items has been signed in to law by the Governor.
"The Work Plan Florida Agenda highlights our joint commitment to keeping Florida on the road to full economic recovery by rebuilding trust and confidence in government and tying job creation to the realities of the economy through investments in education," said President Gaetz. "This session, the Florida House and Senate focused on tackling big issues and working together, we made meaningful changes to Florida's campaign finance and elections systems, achieved landmark education reforms including an online university institute and delivered on ethics reform," said Speaker Weatherford.
The Florida House and Senate also worked together to address two priorities outlined by Governor Scott. The Legislature passed a balanced budget that provides a salary increase for Florida's best teachers and instructional personnel through a more than $1 billion increase in K-12 education and also crafted a comprehensive economic development bill to address the Governor's priority of eliminating the sales tax on manufacturing equipment.
"I'm proud of the progress we have made on our Work Plan Florida agenda, as well as Governor's priorities," continued President Gaetz. "Floridians can be proud that unlike the dysfunction in Washington, here in Florida, your Legislature and your Governor have worked together to accommodate each other's priorities and fashion a balanced budget that addresses the critical needs of our state, sets aside savings for a rainy day and makes wise investments in Florida's future."
"The 2013 session will go down as one of the most productive sessions in recent memory," continued Speaker Weatherford. "I want to thank Senate President Gaetz for his leadership and willingness to work with the Florida House and also Governor Scott for making education and job creation a priority."
The 5-point "Work Plan Florida" includes:
- Ethics Reform. Holding elected officials to a higher standard by addressing a number of reported ethical concerns, including strengthening abstention and disclosure requirements for conflicts of interest and making the process surrounding financial disclosure more transparent and accountable.
Status: Signed by the Governor on May 1, 2013
Senate Bill 2 places elected officials' financial disclosures online, provides the Commission on Ethics more authority including the ability to garnish the public and private salaries of officials who fail to pay fines for ethics and elections violations, requires state officers to abstain from voting on matters that benefit them directly, requires ethics training for constitutional officers, places greater restrictions on public employment while in office, and prohibits officials from accepting gifts from political committees. The bill allows public officials to place assets in a blind trust to help avoid potential conflicts of interest and allows the use of certified public accountants or attorneys when preparing financial disclosures. The bill provides for the filing of ethics complaints all the way up to the day of an election, currently prohibited within the five days preceding an election, but requires that complaints filed within 30 days of an election be based on actual knowledge of a violation, not hearsay, to stop the filing of frivolous politically- motivated complaints. Additionally, the bill bars current and former legislators from lobbying the executive and legislative branches after leaving office. Senate Bill 4 provides the same safeguards for new provisions allowing the Ethics Commission to initiate investigations based on referrals from the Governor, Department of Law Enforcement, and the state and U.S. Attorneys that already exist for investigations based on a complaint. Currently, the Commission can only act on a complaint filed by a citizen.
- Campaign Finance Reform: Increasing accountability in Florida's election system by ensuring campaign contributions are spent appropriately, and increasing transparency through more frequent campaign finance reporting.
Status: Signed by the Governor on May 1, 2013
House Bill 569 is a multipurpose campaign finance bill that eliminates Committees of Continuous Existence through a de-certification process on September 30, 2013, increases the frequency of campaign finance reporting for candidates, political committees and electioneering communications organizations and prohibits candidates who switch races from "double-dipping" contributors for maximum contributions in both races. The bill modifies the current $500 per election individual contribution limit for candidates as follows: $3,000 for statewide and Supreme Court candidates and $1,000 for other candidates. The bill also subjects individuals seeking a publicly-elected position on a political party executive committee to a new reporting requirement.
- Higher Education Reform: Initiating high-quality, affordable options that will keep our higher education system responsive to the realities of a post-recession digital economy through an expansion of online higher education and continued incentive support for college and university programs that produce high-skill, high-wage, and high-demand occupations.
Status: Signed by Governor on April 22, 2013.
Senate Bill 1076 expands current CAPE initiatives, initially sponsored by President Gaetz through Senate Bill 1232 in 2007, into postsecondary education and establishes incentive funding programs to reward education institutions that prepare students for success. The legislation integrates technology skills and knowledge into K-12 classrooms and higher education certificate and degree programs, redefines one rigorous-standard high school diploma and revises high school graduation requirements for all students to increase student academic achievement, enhance employability, and increase the likelihood of college and career success.
Creates Mechanism for Preeminent State Universities - A state university that achieves all 12 metrics is authorized to operate an Institute for Online Learning that offers high-quality, fully online bachelor degree programs at an affordable cost (no more than 75% of the tuition rate specified for resident, Florida students). A state university that achieves 11 of the 12 metrics is authorized to operate a University Enhancement Initiative to further advance national excellence.
Establishes the Complete Florida Degree Program - Establishes a pilot project as a formal program for online bachelor degree options in state universities, coordinated through the University of West Florida in collaboration with other state universities.
$10,000 Bachelor Degrees at Florida College System Institutions - Establishes authority for the waiver of Florida College System tuition and fees for the purpose of offering baccalaureate degrees for state residents for which the cost for the degree program does not exceed $10,000.
Integrates Technology Skills and Knowledge into Classrooms and Degree Programs -
- Expands software applications for students with disabilities in pre-K through grade 12.
- Establishes new mechanisms for students to demonstrate digital skills and knowledge, including:
- Florida Cyber Security Recognition and the Florida Digital Arts Recognition for elementary school students.
- Florida Digital Tools Certificate for middle school students.
- Recognizes State University System excellence/preeminence and expands State University System Information Technology, Cloud Technology, and other high-demand economically-driven program and degree options, including online instruction.
- Establishes a new Institute for Online Learning at one of Florida's nationally-recognized, high-research state universities that will offer high-quality, fully online bachelor degree programs at 75% of the cost of in-state tuition.
Focuses Education on Employer and Economic Job Demands - Provides performance expectations and funding incentives to reward education entities that align programs with economic demands:
- Provides performance/incentive funding to school district technical centers and Florida College System institutions that provide instruction leading to rigorous industry certifications.
- Authorizes Florida College System institutions to offer complete bachelor degree programs at a cost of no more than $10,000 in tuition and fees.
- Requires the State Board of Education and the Board of Governors to use employment outcomes when recommending funding allocations to the Legislature.
Redefines One Rigorous-Standard High School Diploma - Revises high school graduation requirements for all students to increase student academic achievement, enhance employability, and increase the likelihood of postsecondary success and codifies Next Generation Sunshine Standards to reflect State Board adopted subject area standards.
- Pension Reform: Ensuring long-term fiscal predictability for Florida taxpayers and retirees. Increasing transparency by standardizing accounting standards and reporting requirements across local public sector plans.
Current Status: Signed by the Governor on May 31, 2013
Senate Bill 534 requires municipal and special districts to use more realistic assumptions for rate of return when reporting the status of the defined benefit pension plans provided to local government employees. The bill specifies that the state is not liable for any obligation relating to any current or future shortfall in any local government retirement system or plan. The bill also specifies that reports must include the long-term funded ratio, market value of assets, value of actuarial liabilities, amount of any unfunded actuarial liability, timeframe for which assets could sustain payment of retirement benefits, and the recommended sponsor contributions needed to fund the plan. The plan's most recent financial statement, actuarial valuation, and other reports must be published on the plan or plan sponsor's publicly available website.
- Elections Review: Comprehensively reviewing Florida's election law to provide local election supervisors the flexibility needed to reduce wait times and ensure accurate and timely counting and reporting.
Current Status: Signed by Governor on May 21, 2013.
House Bill 7013 takes into account recommendations from the Secretary of State and Florida's Supervisors of Elections to give local administrators additional flexibility. Through the bill, local Supervisors of Elections are able to begin early voting up to five days earlier and are provided the option to hold early voting on the Sunday before the election. The number of eligible early voting sites will expand to include stadiums and convention centers, and Supervisors will gain the ability to add any one non-standard site as needed to accommodate voters. Each county is also required to provide at least as many early voting sites as were operated during the 2012 general election. Elections supervisors will also be required, under the bill, to notify voters who submit unsigned absentee ballots, giving voters an opportunity to rectify the issue.